The message on the author’s COVID Alert smartphone app, and yours too if you live in Alberta (Image: David J. Climenhaga).

With coronavirus pandemic surging in most parts of Canada, most definitely including Alberta, the federal government needs to make its COVID Alert exposure notification app available in this province immediately.

Needless to say, with case numbers rising rapidly in Alberta, it is extremely frustrating for Albertans concerned about their health and doing their best to act responsibly, to turn on COVID Alert and see the words “No reporting in your area — people in your province or territory are not yet able to report a COVID-19 diagnosis through this app.”

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw (Photo: Government of Alberta).

Why the hell not?

This isn’t good for Alberta or the rest of Canada.

Such explanations as there have been about why the federal app is still not operating in Alberta do not make sense.

Last Tuesday, Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw repeated the claim made earlier by United Conservative Party political staffers that COVID Alert “isn’t available in the province because there are still technical issues in transitioning current users of the ABTraceTogether app to the federal app.”

Say what?

Albertans know that the ABTraceTogether app was a dud. When it was introduced last May, it didn’t work properly on Apple iPhones, the dominant smartphone product in the market. To run on an iPhone or other Apple product, it required a jury-rigged workaround that drained your phone’s batteries at warp speed.

Since the app required high pickup by users to work properly — and since more than half the smart phones in Canada run on Apple’s iOS — introducing the app was a major policy failure from the get-go.

The cost was also excessive. Alberta’s oh-so-cost-conscious government paid yet another U.K.-based consulting company $625,000 to come up with that lemon.

Back in August — early August — the Alberta government announced it was abandoning ABTraceTogether because so few Albertans were downloading it. Many who had downloaded it soon removed it for the simple reason it sucked their phone’s batteries dry.

On Oct. 16, Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s press secretary, Steve Buick, told iPolitics that Alberta was working with the federal government to transition “nearly 245,000 users” of ABTraceTogether to COVID Alert, which has the advantage of working.

At the time of the iPolitics story, about 4.5 million Canadians had loaded the federal app on their smart phones.

As the number of cases surges during the second wave of the pandemic and testing facilities are overwhelmed, the utility of the federal app becomes more obvious to most provinces. For that reason, Manitoba and Quebec overcame their initial hesitation to sign on to COVID Alert. At this point, all Canadian territories and provinces have signed on to the program except Alberta and British Columbia. B.C.’s app, however, at least works.

But Alberta is still having “technical issues”? Or is it dragging its feet for some other reason — like, say, not wanting to give the federal government credit for doing anything? Or, worse, not wanting Albertans to know how bad the second wave is as the government struggles to avoid a second lockdown?

Seriously, the time for Ottawa to stop letting Alberta futz around is now.

Apps are apps. COVID Alert can be turned on in Alberta right now without waiting for the provincial government to solve its technical issues with its failed app, which it’s walked away from anyway.

Ottawa should do so immediately.

If the technical issues can be solved later, excellent. If not, too bad, so sad.

Remember, the whole idea of smart phone apps is that they’re easy to download and use. It makes more sense to ask those 245,000 Alberta users to each spend another 30 seconds loading a new, national app that works than it does to wait weeks or months for Alberta to find a way to call its now-abandoned flop a success.

If Alberta objects to Ottawa doing that — and wouldn’t that be interesting? — the federal government can and should act unilaterally to protect Albertans.

Activate the COVID Alert App in Alberta. Activate it now!

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  1. Hmmm…it seems this ABTrace Together app was based on open source software developed in Singapore and freely made available to governments around the world. Basically the Ab gov’t paid Deloitte, the accounting firm which does a lot of IT consulting work, a whopping $625,000 for probably 20 hours of work involving skinning and rebranding.

  2. Bit of a quixotic exhortation methinks.

    With many an average rube still to this day avoiding people who’ve had successful cancer operations, as if they could catch “it” themselves, the typical “recovered” person doesn’t go around at work or play boasting about their ordeal to strangers outside their social circle if they have any sense. Not a good situation, but true. They find out they’re regarded as damaged goods and shunned otherwise. I call it dumb prejudice but you cannot deny its existence. Your average citizen isn’t that informed about most anything and couldn’t care less anyway, which is why racism and voting for Conservatives persists.

    Amazingly, the Covid-19 app relies on the average rube who contracted the virus to own up to the fact, and happily admit to it by activating the Fed app with their personal admission to that fact on it. Hah! People prefer to explain their absence to others by saying they were isolating on the advice of 811 because they “might” have come too close and spent too much time near “someone” who public health says tested positive. Hell, the perceived social stigma is why Public Health never publishes the names and addresses of positive virus testees. They know what the average dolt would do with that info and the public and social media shaming that could easily follow for the sufferer.

    Let’s examine this all somewhat logically. If you test positive for Covid-19, at the very least you are supposed to self-isolate for two weeks, and hope you have a mild case (or it’s hospital for you). How is it then, that a person would admit to having Covid-19 on the app, and then throw caution to the winds and wander around in public so that other people can have the app on their phone tell them — uh oh, you’ve spent too much time near an infected person? I mean —????

    Give me a break.

    Read this from Oct 20:

    An excerpt: “Figures provided by the provincial government show COVID Alert users have reported 1,354 cases through the app since its launch on July 31.

    Given that Ontario has had more than 25,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since then, this means roughly five per cent of those infected with the novel coronavirus have used the app to report their case, which would then warn other users of potential exposure if they had been within two metres of that person for at least 15 minutes in the preceding two weeks.”

    How many of those supremely honest 1,354 people left their point of self-isolation, typically home? I would hazard a guess at a big fat ZERO. So the app helped nobody else, not a soul.

    Quelle surprise. The latter part of the above-linked CBC article contains blather from public health “experts”, whose brains appear to reside in another galaxy far, far away. Nothing works 100% they say, but every little bit helps. Right. There is a gap in logic here big enough to encompass a million cases of the virus.

    Sorry, but it’s nonsense like this app that greatly erode my confidence in the advice of medical experts.

    Wear a mask, physically distance, avoid hanging around for long in public small air volume rooms like restaurants or small stores, use some common sense, and maybe we’ll get through this epidemic sometime or other with our logical faculties intact. Then again. maybe not.

  3. Why is an app even required cell phones are tracked and traced, maybe just open up the existing system law enforcement is already using? Maybe all these video doorbells out there can be brought into the system as well? Heck if we were on better terms with China we could just borrow their system. My social credit score is going to take a hit with that comment, don’t worry Dave your cheering for government surveillance will improve your score. Although I’m not sure it will balance out previously calling out corrupt party officials, guess you will know the next time you get on a plane.

    The normalization of constant tracking and tracing is the goal maybe Kenney just wants control of it? Think of the outrage if even a year ago the government said they will be tracking and tracing your movement? Never let a good crisis go to waste I guess.

  4. The infamous “technical issues” excuse is used every time the CMOH delays releasing Covid data. On the day that Jason Kenney and others went into Covid isolation, that excuse was trotted out again. One CBC reporter noted an anomaly in the numbers. It seems that the actual number of positive tests was higher than reported. Some of those tests apparently belonged to other days. Instead of being transparent, those tests were redistributed retroactively to past days. Where on the government’s website can we see actual total numbers of positive tests, and retroactively altered test numbers day by day?

    I think “technical issues” is code for the big magic eraser.

    1. Well, I’m by no means an expert on iOS v. Android, but I did come across that statistic in several places, including here. Enough to make me feel confident it was right. “Canada is predominantly an iOS market, according to the research. As of November (2018), 54.9% of all smartphones (15.9 million devices) were Apple devices.” Could there have been that big a change between 2018 and 2019? Well, anything’s possible, but I doubt it. Worldwide, this article suggests, your statistic or something like it may be right. But that’s not what I said, is it? DJC

  5. Your premier loves to tackle big problems without those meddlers back east. Time to get War Room CEO Tom Olsen and his fellow gumshoes into action. They know how to solve problems. Just check the facts.

  6. Gosh, for some reason, the phone line to the premier’s office has gone dead. That seems like the kind of response we have grown to expect from him. Not to worry. I’ll keep trying. All. Day. Long.

  7. I suspect that in the middle of this health services wildcat labour action, the War Room’s portfolio of assignments may have been expanded. Now, it’s war against the greedy and lazy nurses and doctors. A PDF written in a particularly aggressive font will declare Alberta must stop this globalist cabal of nurses because…George Soros. All those claims of pandemic concentration camps that are circulating on social media and promoted by UCP MLAs is just the cherry on the top of this conspiracy theory.

    No doubt this is the work of the vengeful BC NDP, now that they are drunk with power. Alberta Uber Alles.

  8. So why hasn’t BC rolled out the fed app either, despite having a union controlled government, which is the end game of every article posted on this site?

    1. mr Brown,
      a desire for government/governance that sees it’s primary mandate the well-being of its citizens does not presuppose “having a union controlled government”

      much better the emphasis on the common good than government that sees it’s primary mandate as the well-being of its corporations, business interests and the veRy wealthy and controlled by such à la Kenney and other harperite cOnservatives

      1. Government is a service provider of last resort. It’s primary mandate is to deliver services that cannot be delivered by the private sector, as efficiently as possible.

        No comment on BC not moving to the federal covid tracking app?

  9. Just aside, there is some news going around that the Zoom meetings that were captured and causing tons of priceless memes also featured instances where the subject of Alberta’s secessionist movement came up. It appears that there is rumbling within the UCP membership over the failure of Kenney’s soft touch with Ottawa. There are members who want to throw down the gauntlet and make full-on demands or else. These members understand that Kenney’s claims of reform through referendums are empty because he was never serious about any of these reforms. Kenney is too closely tied to Ottawa’s establishment to be truly effective to serve Alberta’s interests.

    There was some indication a few months ago that there were UCP MLAs who opposed Kenney’s approach with Ottawa. It looks like the secession of Erin O’Toole to the CPC leadership is seen as being more show and less substance.

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